Afghanistan could descend into another civil war if the West fails to “engage” with the Taliban, Pakistan’s foreign minister has told Sky News.
Shah Mahmood Qureshi warned of potential “anarchy” and a resurgent threat of terrorism as he criticised the West’s exit strategy, saying there was a failure to listen to Pakistan‘s concerns about ending the war in Afghanistan and as a result the withdrawal was not “responsible or orderly”.
But he also said the initial statements from the extreme Islamist group have been “positive” and “encouraging”, and he hoped the Taliban would work towards creating an “inclusive government” in the multi-ethnic state.
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He said: “One option is engagement as opposed to isolation, you know we’ve withdrawn, let’s wash our hands, we’ve done our bit, we leave.
“That’s a dangerous option. That’s an option of abandonment of Afghan people.
“That’s the mistake that was committed in the 90s. I would urge the international community not to repeat the same mistake again.”
But there are huge questions about whether the Taliban can be trusted. The minister said the West should “test” the ultra-conservative hardliners to make sure they were true to their word.
He added that it was in the group’s interest to act responsibly and hoped they had changed.
“They should have learned from their mistakes,” he said. “And I think the attitude and the approach they are taking is reflective of a different approach.”
“What I’m saying is test them before trusting them. They’re big statements but let’s see if they live up to them and if they do, then build on it because the other option is far worse.
“If they’re sensible, they should in my view respect international opinion and international norms. Why? They need assistance, they will be in charge, if they will be in charge they will need humanitarian assistance, they will need financial assistance, otherwise you will see an economic collapse.”
But many Afghans are frightened about how their new rulers will behave.
The country has bitter memories and is fearful of a repeat of what happened when the extremists last ran the country between 1996 and 2001.
As the last American flight left Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the victory was a “lesson for other invaders”, but emphasised the group wanted “good diplomatic relations” with the US and the rest of the world.
After 20 years of bitter war and then a humiliating defeat, the West is now in a dilemma about what to do next.
But the policy choices are few and none are very desirable: cooperating with a sworn enemy against a potential bigger threat such as ISIS-K, or isolating the Taliban as international pariahs for their brutality and treatment of women.
The foreign minister warns the “consequences of abandonment” are dangerous.
“It could lead to a civil war,” he said.
“Things could become chaotic, there could be anarchy, and that will give space to the organisations we all dread: the international terrorist organisation that we do not want their footprint to grow in Afghanistan.”
There is another major issue, a massive, worsening humanitarian crisis looming in the war-ravaged country.
The World Food Programme says one in three Afghans are already going hungry as the nation faces its worst drought in 30 years.
Added to that, Afghanistan is facing bankruptcy as it is heavily reliant on foreign aid, but giving money to a Taliban government would not only be an endorsement, it would also help bankroll their regime.
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Pakistan’s government is clear on this issue, though – there is no room for the “abandonment” and the world needs to come together for the Afghan people.
The stakes are extremely high for Islamabad. Neighbouring Afghanistan, it says, already hosts nearly four million refugees and can’t afford another major crisis on its borders.
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